The first half of last night’s men’s basketball game hinted at a repeat of the closely contested matches the Elis have lost to American in the previous two seasons, but the second half spelled a different end for Yale.

A dynamic second-half performance led the Bulldogs (8-7) to a 71-59 win over American University (4-10) — their first-ever victory against the Eagles — Monday night in Washington, D.C. Swingman Casey Hughes’ ’07 15 points and five rebounds helped the Elis widen a four-point halftime lead to as many as 17 during the second stanza en route to their eighth non-conference victory of the season — just one fewer than the total from their last two seasons combined. The win was the Bulldogs’ final contest before their Ivy League season begins Saturday against Brown, and the victory gives the Elis added confidence as they approach the matchup.

“I think we played well over our last four games,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We put some points on the board and we played pretty good defense. I’m excited at where we are. We still have to improve, but I think we’re in a very good place right now.”

American played Yale closely early in the game, actually taking the lead four times during the first half. Eagles guard Arvydas Eitutavicius scored 10 of his game-high 25 points, and guard Linas Lekavicius went four for five from the floor during the first half to keep the Eagles in the running.

Then four turnovers by American and seven unanswered points from Eli swingman Travis Pinick ’09 swung the momentum in the Bulldogs’ favor and helped kick off a 12-4 Yale run to put the Bulldogs ahead, 35-31, at the break.

The Elis came out of the locker room ready to run the floor and continued the spree they started during the first half, scoring 13 points to the Eagles’ two. Hughes exploded offensively and scored 13 of his points during the second half, including five in the first three minutes.

“Right at the beginning of the second half, we forced a couple turnovers,” captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said. “Casey got out in transition and we scored a couple shots right away.”

Even more impressive than Yale’s second-half transition offense was the Bulldogs’ tenacious man-to-man defense. Eagles guard Andre Ingram, who leads American with 11.9 points per game, was held to just one point by Hughes until late in the second half when he added a three to American’s failed comeback attempt with 1:53 left on the clock. The Eagles shot just 33 percent from the floor and 22 percent from behind the arc during the second half.

“I just thought we were quicker to the ball,” Jones said. “We smothered them defensively and took away good looks for them on offense.”

The Eagles struggled from the three-point line, shooting just 27 percent from behind the arc for the game. Much of the Eagles’ offense relied upon getting the ball inside, then finding the perimeter players for the outside shot. Even though their long shots weren’t falling, the Eagles refused to go down without a fight. Eitutavicius had four of American’s 11 steals, and freshman Jordan Nichols had five blocks to contribute to the Eagles’ defensive efforts.

“They’re pretty feisty,” Martin said. “They pressure the ball a lot. They’re good at penetrating and kicking out and scoring that way.”

American lacked an inside presence to match the strength of Eli center Dominick Martin ’06, forward Sam Kaplan ’07 and Hughes. The Elis outrebounded the Eagles, 35-32, bolstered by Martin’s six boards and Pinick’s five. Martin went seven of 13 from the floor for a total of 14 points.

“They really didn’t have anyone that could match [Martin],” Greenberg said. “They lost their big guys from last year and they didn’t really double-team him, which was surprising.”

The Bulldogs’ trip down to D.C. was their final contest in a six-game road trip which had spanned nearly one month, and gives the Elis their first winning record going into Ivy League play since their 2001-02 campaign. The Elis will look to continue outrebounding opponents and to carry over the energy from their win when they host Brown on Saturday.

“I think we have to take the positives from the game with us,” Greenberg said. “We played with a lot of intensity. We did a good job of knowing the scouting report and taking away what they were good at. We rebounded well again, and we played great team defense.”